Think DRM is a necessary evil? Love the iPod model for e-books—built around Amazon’s Kindle? Today’s your day. I’m very pleased to publish some pro-Kindle commentary from Evan Schnittman, vice president of business development and rights at Oxford University Press (photo). Discussion’s more fun with different viewpoints included, and given all my skepticism about DRM and an Amazon – dominated iPoddish model for the book industry, I encourage other defenders to submit their own essays to the TeleBlog. Meanwhile thanks to Evan for taking time to present his side! – David Rothman.
David kindly linked on November 21 to my Kindle review on the OUP blog and called me out on a major area of disagreement between us; DRM. One of my basic points is that Amazon has made a huge play taken right out of Apple’s iPod playbook and, if Amazon fails, I fear the world of e-books might forever fail. David’s response was that if Kindle fails, it will be the death of DRM and not the e-book. David’s view is that the restrictive DRM has kept the e-book limited and the only solution is a world of DRM-free content. My position has always been that the iPod, with its 75% market share and pretty much invisible yet omnipresent DRM, is the only model of hope for e-books.
I have been playing with my Kindle and watching others as I demonstrate it. The Kindle comes with the New Oxford American Dictionary preloaded, so I was fortunate enough to attend the Amazon press conference and receive my Kindle the first day it was available. Using the Kindle and showing it to others has helped firm up my position on DRM and on what it takes to be a reading device.
The best quote on how the Kindle does as a reading device belongs to Jeff Bezos. I believe he said something like, “The device disappears after a bit and one is left with a reading experience.” This is exactly what is right about the Kindle–it’s clearly designed by readers for readers. The Kindle is supposed to be a device that disappears, not one that inspires techno-envy. Kindle has one job, and one job only–to create a seamless digital reading experience from purchase through immersive reading.
Immersive reading has always been the bane of electronic content. As extractive content such as reference has flourished in digital form with the public writ large, immersive reading digitally has only worked with a very, very small subset of the population–those who don’t mind reading on a tiny, backlit LCD screen. While there are plenty of bloggers who feel this way, there just aren’t enough compared to the vast number of readers who, like me, would never, ever get through a long article on a Blackberry, let alone a full book.
The Kindle is the first device that not only allows for a pleasurable immersive reading experience (Sony and IRex do as well) but also, like the iPod, creates a seamless experience in getting DRM’d content into the device in less than 10 seconds. In fact, the experience of buying and using content on the Kindle is easier than using iTunes as the wireless Kindle bypasses the PC (or Mac) completely. Search, buy, read–that is the Kindle experience.
So to all of you who think it’s ugly, to all of you who find flaws with its lack of cool and lack of features to all of you who are outraged that it’s difficult or impossible to get your old eContent onto the Kindle, and to all of you gnashing your teeth over the fact that content bought on a Kindle stays on a Kindle because of the DRM, I say the Kindle is clearly not for you!
The Kindle is for folks like my sister-in-law Laurie, a voracious reader of print books who sat at my dining room table last week playing with the Kindle for hours–fascinated by the book like experience it offered, the scale of content offered, and the easy way by which the content could be purchased and loaded automatically into the device. Laurie, who would never think to read on an iPhone, who downloads music onto her iPod without ever considering the DRM, wanted a Kindle more than anything. She wanted it because the Kindle did a spectacular job of removing the technology experience from the ebook experience, precisely what the iPod does with music.
Laurie represents the endgame publishers have been seeking since the days of the Rocket e-book (Geek check – I still have one in its original box!)–a device that makes the experience of reading e-books about the reading and not about the device and its technology. The holy grail for e-books is when Laurie (or me for that matter), not device users, not gadget hounds–people who are heavy readers and don’t care about DRM, WAP browsers, or Verizon’s new open device plans. Laurie represents the core constituency of publishing today and if she is willing to buy and reads books on the Kindle, game over. And if folks like Laurie aren’t willing to buy and read on the Kindle, then it’s game over for e-books and long live print!